STRONG IS THE NEW THIN; NORMAL BODY FAT IS FINE
The Victoria Secret Fashion Show 2016 will be aired on December 5. In spite of its official billing with a focus on apparel, it remains one of the most watched, beauty pageant-like shows on earth. Models wear scanty undergarments and fantastical, large, and heavy-looking, costume pieces that function as ‘accessories’. Women have wished to have the same physiques as these “angels” of the runway, the VS name for the top models who are selected to star in this particular show.
Last year UK fitness blogger Poppy Cross took on a 4-month long “VS Challenge”. She trained and dieted like the women, in order to determine whether the dream of becoming such a goddess was unattainable for those without special genes or the willingness to diet to near starvation. As she put it in a 2015 UK Daily Mail article, she asked, “could a mere mortal achieve a body worthy of VS scanties?”
In her blog and the DM piece, Cross described the process needed to transform her already slim figure to one that met the body composition and measurement benchmarks set by the lingerie company as requirements for participation in the year-end show. The main target to reach to attain the VS “body of an angel” she learned, was a sub-18% body fat, the range in which some athletes find themselves (14-20%); fit and healthy women will have from 21-24%, undernourished women will have 13% or less, plus health problems.
Weight training was the key exercise and included “squats, dead-lifts, weighted lunges, bicep curls, tricep dips, and press-ups”, starting with one session a week and progressing to 4/week. Other types of exercises were prescribed as additional “homework” sessions. She injured her back the first time out (no specifics) and took a week to recover before training was resumed.
You can read about her experience in detail by following links to the other pieces. She seemed to summarize the whole process, in the DM article, by saying the” hours and dedication required to be VS catwalk-ready require a military mind and athlete’s performance – impossible to maintain if you have a job and family or want a social life. The VS girls admit they don’t live like that all the time. If they did, it would be called an eating disorder.”
The end results: her BODY WEIGHT REMAINED THE SAME, body fat decreased 22 to 17%, dress size was lowered from 6 to 2-4, waist circumference went from 26 to 24 inches, and blood cholesterol was lowered from above to within the normal range.
These revelations were incredible, to my mind. I wished Cross had run a 5K or 10K race prior to starting and after finishing; she in fact is a long-time runner. The regimen the blogger elected to follow allowed her to replace fat with muscle. Although she wasn’t training to become faster she definitely could have been, as the extra muscle without extra weight plus training (sprint intervals, ballet, boxing, and Pilates sessions were included) would have made her stronger with improved balance. The routines described are recommended for runners!!!. Weekly massages were on the schedule too. It would be great for trainers/coaches to weigh in on this.
The VS organization is making a big effort to portray their models as athletes, according to a 2015 article in TheAtlantic, naming it a “weird athleticism”. The magazine contends that “yet for Victoria’s Secret to emphasize, in its show, the work required of its models also represents, in its small way, progress”. The way it was before, the magazine indicates, de-emphasized the methods utilized to become model-thin and willowy. Last year’s fashion show, it says, seems indicative of a new culture, as it “celebrated sweat, and sacrifice, and work. It celebrated muscles and strength.”
Poppy Cross’s experience shows us that building muscle strength requires intense and difficult effort. Whether undertaken for appearance sake or improved performance (running a race or negotiating a catwalk with an enormous costume in high heel shoes for an hours-long show), physical and mental focus is needed. It’s heartening to know that perhaps Beauty can be celebrated as being a Beast as well, when it comes to training hard for a goal competition.
However, unhealthy dieting that purposely brings hydration and body fat percentage to such low levels seems too risky to celebrate for any reason. Realistically, would anyone notice the difference in these very fit models? Hey Victoria Secret, accepting a normal-range body fat percentage in “angels” could be your next corporate culture-change goal.
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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